The Hunger Games: Katniss, lessons from a reluctant leader

The young protagonist of  The Hunger Games, Katniss, captured the imagination of readers around the world as a reluctant leader of a national rebellion – when all she really wanted to do was save her sister from dying in the arena.

First, some backstory

Katniss in the woods. Photo courtesy IMDb.

The Hunger Games is a series written for the young adult audience by Suzanne Collins. It is a gritty story set in a dysfunctional future where teenagers are selected to fight to death as a way of reminding the residents of Panem that their governement holds full control over their lives.

When her only sister, the young and innocent Prim is selected, Katniss reacts instinctively, stepping forward to take her place, ignoring the fact that this act all but insures she will die a humiliating death in the most public of all arenas – in the televised Hunger Games that are required viewing for all of Panem.

It is a gripping tale as we watch events unfold from Katiniss’ point of view. She sees herself as simply a girl who wants to go home. Sure, she has a unique skill set, taught to hunt from an early age by her father, skills honed by necessity when he dies in a mine accident. The food she forages or kills keeps her, her sister and her catatonically depressed mother alive.

What Katniss does not want is attention. And she certainly never asked to be cast in the role of rebel leader and icon as the Mockingjay, the Girl on Fire.

This is actually a highly relatable attitude. Very few of us have the hubris to think we would stand up to the scrutiny of being a public figure. And very often those who do believe their own press are crushed by public opinion when words and deeds fail to live on the same plain.

In the book of Judges, in the Bible, there is a great story about a young man who didn’t want to be a leader either. His name was Gideon. (Follow along in Judges 6:1-32)

The Capitol takes everything, including the children

Gideon was the youngest son of his family in a clan that was the weakest of all Israel. To make matters worse every harvest season, the small nation was being completely overrun by its neighbor nation, Midian, whose people would descend like locusts in numbers too great to count. Israel would be stripped bare of all their resources before Midian would retreat again. Israel suffered greatly, children starving, parents desperate. It is an ancient picture echoed in the Hunger Games where the adults of the district work themselves to death, only to see all their profits and efforts turned into extravagant waste by the residents of the Capitol. Finally Israel cried out to God for help. (After virtually ignoring God for several decades – please note.)

Everyone has a Hob, and an unexpected Reaping

Gideon had managed to harvest enough grain and he was threshing it (removing the seed heads from the stalk and chaff) in a wine press. In short he was hiding, just in case the Midians came riding through, so this small amount of grain might escape unnoticed. Kind of like the Hob where the residents of District 12 could trade goods without giving their profits to the Capitol. Suddenly Gideon realized a man was watching him from under a nearby oak tree – but not just any man, an Angel of the LORD, who said, “The LORD is with you mighty warrior.”

Can’t you just see the “Wha…?!” expression on Gideon’s face. He tried to explain to the angel that he was the chihuahua of the nation, the littlest of the little, but the angel wouldn’t hear it.

“The LORD turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand.'”

I hate my nickname

That night he and 10 servants tore down the idols in the town square, an altar to the god Baal and a pole erected in honor of the goddess Asherah. He then rebuilt a “proper” altar and used the pole to build a fire under an acceptable offering to God.

The next morning, instead of thanking Gideon for reminding them of Who really had the ability to save them, the men of the village were furious. They were beating on Gideon’s door demanding his father send out the vandal so they could kill him. His dad refused, saying, “Let Baal defend himself.”

I’m still not sure if he was poking fun at the villagers or throwing them a bone since he wouldn’t throw them his son.

Placated, but unhappy, the villagers began calling Gideon, Jerub-Baal, which means “Let Baal fix him.” I’m pretty sure Gideon shuddered when hearing that, much as Katniss did when President Snow called her The Girl On Fire – both a nickname and a threat.

Going back into the arena

Katniss survived The Hunger Games, and by boldly challenging the Capitol’s rules, managed to save Peeta’s life too. Home again with nothing more to worry about than how to tell the two boys who love her that she has no intention of picking either, suddenly being thrown back into the arena is the cruelest twist of fate.

Gideon must feel about the same way when after his act of civil disobedience/God obedience, God calls him take on the massive people-group gathering at the boarders for the next annual invasion.

But… we’ll talk about that next week!

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  1. Hi there, I would like to subscribe for this blog to
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    • Jane Wells says:

      Hi Kat!
      I’m so glad you liked this!
      There are a ton of “follow me” links on the top left corner of the blog, included a blog reader link or even email.

  2. Rosie Powell says:

    [“What Katniss does not want is attention. And she certainly never asked to be cast in the role of rebel leader and icon as the Mockingjay, the Girl on Fire.”]

    Why do people assume that Katniss was asked to become the leader of the Rebellion against the Capitol? She wasn’t even 20 years old yet by the third novel. And the Rebellion already had a leader – Alma Coin. Katniss was asked to serve as a propaganda tool for the Rebellion. That’s all. Later, she became a combatant. But she was never “the leader”.